After lawsuit threat, Canadian province relents, will not suppress church services from cars

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Only days after issuing huge fines to a church for holding “illegal” drive-in church services, a Canadian province has now reversed course and will allow people to worship in their cars in church parking lots.

Beginning this Saturday, the provincial government of Manitoba under Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister will let people attend drive-in church services, so long as they remain in the car and the occupants are of the same household.

The change to allow drive-in services was announced by the chief public health officer of the province, Dr. Brent Roussin, Tuesday, after the province said it would be extending its severe restrictions, albeit with some easing, such as allowing drive-in church services.

Last Sunday, the pastor of the Manitoba Church of God in Steinbach, Tobias Tissen, was fined over $6,000 for holding a drive-in service for the second week in a row.

According to a Rebel News report, the fines were handed out not by the local police, the RCMP, but by officers with “Manitoba Justice” written on the backs of their jackets. 

The change from the Manitoba government comes only days after the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF)  warned that it will seek an injunction to allow drive-in church services if the government did not reverse course.

A representative of the JCCF told LifeSiteNews that the group is “pleased” that the province has decided to allow people to worship outdoors in their cars. 

“The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is very pleased to hear that the Province of Manitoba has reversed its decision to ban drive-in church services. We warned the Premier a week ago that this ban was not compliant with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not justifiable at law, and that if not reversed, we would file an Injunction Application,” said Allison Pejovic, a JCCF Winnipeg-based lawyer and a member of the Manitoba bar, to LifeSiteNews.

“This is a small victory for Manitoba churches whose congregants are desperate to worship together, even if it’s just from their cars in a parking lot. More work needs to be done, however, to reverse Manitoba’s extraordinary and harmful interference with civil liberties.”

Pallister and his government have enacted some of the most severe and restrictive COVID-19 lockdown measures in Canada, moving the entire province into their red “critical” phase of lockdown on November 12.

As part of the provincial lockdown, all churches had to close and could only “provide services virtually.” Social gatherings of any kind were not permitted in Manitoba, and only businesses listed as “critical services” can be open at 25 percent capacity. This means that gyms, movie theaters, recreation centers, and museums are being ordered to close. Restaurants can offer take-out only, but schools remain open. 

It was only recently that the Manitoba Church of God in Steinbach was handed a $5,000 fine after defying COVID-19 restrictions to hold an in-person service. The same church again defied COVID-19 rules banning all church services other than virtual ones on Sunday, November 29, and held a drive-in service that saw the police block the parking lot of the church.

Tissen forged ahead with the planned service but had to do so from the side of the highway with a loudspeaker in the back of a truck. He used the church’s Facebook page to give updates to his parishioners.

A few days ago, a Manitoba judge denied a request from Springs Church in Winnipeg to be able to hold drive-in services after they took the government to court with a claim that their charter rights were being violated.

The church had been fined over $32,000 for holding drive-in church services against government lockdown orders, but the judge ruled that he did “not believe that the applicants meet their burden of showing that [they] will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted.”

At the end of November, the JCCF released a “comprehensive Charter analysis of the Manitoba Government’s lockdown measures,” going on to say the Pallister government’s COVID-19 orders “violate the Charter freedoms of citizens to move, travel, assemble, associate and worship, all while crippling society and the economy.”

“The Province seems to have completely ignored the fact that Manitobans have Charter rights that protect their freedoms to assemble, associate, worship, and express themselves,” said Pejovic.

Last week, Pallister told reporters he was the guy “who’s stealing Christmas” to keep people in his province “safe” from COVID-19. 

 

From Life Site News here.